James Hope and Antietam: Landscape of Bloodiest Day in US Military History Depicted in Five Murals

by DerdriuMarriner

Art teacher, landscapist and portraitist James Hope, a Scottish immigrant, depicted the Battle of Antietam, infamous as the bloodiest day in U.S. history, in 5 compelling murals.

Scottish immigrant James Hope (November 29, 1818 - October 20, 1892) set aside his career as an art teacher, landscapist, and portraitist to serve as Captain of Company B in Vermont's Second Infantry during the War Between the States (April 12, 1861 – May 9, 1865), also known as the American Civil War. When he was too sick to fight, he made maps and sketched battlefield scenes.

After ongoing illnesses forced him to resign, James Hope returned to teaching and to painting, specializing in landscapes and portraits.
• As with so many veterans, however, James was drawn to share his memories and to honor military comrades.
• For the rest of his life, James included Civil War-themed depictions in his portfolio of portraits and landscapes.

James' enduring legacy comprises five murals depicting the Battle of Antietam, a raging inferno of death fought on a single day, September 17, 1862, which stands, after 150 years, as the bloodiest single-day battle in U.S. military history, with total casualties of dead, missing, and wounded tallied at over 22,000.


Captain James Hope

Antietam National Battlefield
Antietam National Battlefield

Back Story: Captain James Hope, an artist during the War Between the States


James Hope (November 29, 1818 - October 20, 1892) was born in Drygrange Lodge, Roxburghshire, in southeastern Scotland's Southern Uplands. In the first 13 years of his life, James experienced heart-wrenching vicissitudes.

  • His mother passed away during his second year of life.
  • At around the age of 9, young James immigrated with his father to Canada.
  • Around 1831, his father succumbed to a cholera outbreak.

According to tradition, at around the age of 15 or 16, the teen-aged orphan left the farm where he was living in Canada to walk to the town of Fair Haven, in southwestern Vermont's Rutland County.

  • During his five-year apprenticeship to a wagon maker, James saved his earnings, with the goal of fulfilling his childhood passion for sketching.
  • Sometime after his apprenticeship, James enrolled for a year's course of art studies at the Castleton Seminary (now Castleton State College), founded in 1787 in the neighboring town of Castleton.

Inching eastward, James settled as a painter, often specializing in portraiture, in West Rutland, where, on Monday, September 20, 1841, he married a local girl, Julia M. Smith.

After a lucrative, two-year stint as a portraitist in Montreal, the thriving capital of the Province of Canada, James returned to Castleton to teach at his alma mater.

In 1851, he built his family's home, which, still standing, is known as Hope House on the grounds of Castleton State College.

In the early 1850s, James opened a studio in New York City, where he painted during the winter while his wife and their family of four children remained in Castleton.


An Artistic Captain during the War Between the States

Within the first month after the Battle of Fort Sumter, fought from April 12 to 14, 1861, in eastern coastal South Carolina, James raised Second Vermont Infantry's Company B, of which he was commissioned as Captain on May 16, 1861. James' military service included actual battlefield experience as well as special assignments.

  • During the Peninsula Campaign of March through July 1862 in southeastern Virginia, James was assigned to topographical engineering.
  • Finessed by his talents as a landscape artist, James' sketches of terrain features, transportation infrastructures, such as roads and waterways, and vegetation provided critical details for the cornucopia of military maps steadily required by the Army of the Potomac, the major Union Army in the war's Eastern Theater.

During and after the Battle of Antietam, which bloodied the earth and waters of northwestern Maryland in a single day of battle on Wednesday, September 17, 1862, James sketched the battlefield. Three months later, on Saturday, December 20, 1862, the brave artist, weakened from unrelenting bouts of dysentery, malaria, and rheumatism, resigned from his commission.

In the three decades of life which remained for James after resignation from the army, he pursued his passion for painting, specializing in landscapes and in depictions of Civil War-themed events.

James spent the last two decades of his life in the scenic village of Watkins Glen in south central New York's Schuyler County.



Among James' artistic legacy, his five murals depicting the Battle of Antietam stand out as masterpieces of military and landscape artistry.

  • The powerful murals, so compellingly exhibited in the Antietam National Battlefield's museum, effectively convey the procession of events during the 12+ hours of the bloodiest single day of battle in U.S. military history.
  • The murals' composition, deft depictions, and factually objective immediacy testify to their portrayal by an on-the-scene observer.


And yet, these powerful murals were almost lost to history.


Church where Hope paintings were found

Watkins Glen, New York
Watkins Glen, New York

Park Service curators recovering the Hope paintings.

Watkins Glen, New York
Watkins Glen, New York

Hope Lost; Hope Restored


Hope Lost

After James Hope's death, his family kept the art gallery which he had built in the scenic, New York village of Watkins Glen open through the first decades of the twentieth century.

Watkins Glen, sited picturesquely on the southern tip of Seneca Lake, the largest Finger Lake and the deepest lake in New York, was devastated by the Great Flood of 1935, which, unleashing its watery fury on Monday, July 8th, caused public and private property losses valued at $40,000,000.00 ($700,000,000.00 in 2014).

Hope's Art Gallery numbered among the flood's tragedies, with destruction of much of his work and serious damage to the Antietam panoramas.

In 1955, part of the surviving pieces from James' collection were purchased by art collector Dr. Larry Freeman.

Housed in an abandoned, old church in Watkins Glen, the panoramas suffered further damage from the elements and from vagrant wildlife, such as bugs and raccoons.


Hope Restored

In 1979, the National Park Service paid $5,000.00 ($17,880.00 in 2014) to purchase the collection from Dr. Freeman.

  • Restoration of four of the panoramas cost in excess of $10,000.00 per painting.
  • A fifth mural, depicting the Bloody Lane, defied restoration, apart from a small, salvageable section.


Now permanently exhibited in the Antietam National Battlefield Museum, the murals serve as intrinsic components of the battlefield's landscape of honorific mementos.

  • A unique aspect of the murals is their dynamism, which is conveyed through representation of a series of events. Rather than isolating stages in order to capture a moment or an event, the murals simultaneously depict a sweeping procession of movements, such as advances and retreats.

The ravages of the past are gentled with soft lighting and with humidity and temperature monitors in the hope of preserving unique memorials by a caring artist to the valor which he observed during the bloodiest day of battle in U.S. military history.


Artillery Hell ~ Early morning

Antietam National Battlefield
Antietam National Battlefield

Artillery Hell: Early morning


The mural is composed from the perspective of looking north in the early morning of September 17, 1862, along the Hagerstown Turnpike.

Confederate colonel Stephen Dill Lee (September 22, 1833 – May 28, 1908), depicted in lower left, described the Battle of Antietam, with its deafeningly intense artillery fire, as "artillery hell." His skill as a corps commander derived from his familiarity with all three branches of army services: artillery, cavalry, and infantry. 

The unsuccessful advance of a division, commanded by Brigadier General John Sedgwick (September 13, 1813 – May 9, 1864), in Major General Edwin Vose Sumner's (January 30, 1797 – March 21, 1863) II Corps, toward the thick West Woods, northwest of Hagerstown Turnpike, is depicted to the right.

The mural dynamically and coherently juxtaposes the two events, which actually occurred in succession: Colonel Lee's forces already had deployed in another part of the battlefield when Sedgwick's division ventured onto the scene.


A Fateful Turn ~ Late morning

Antietam National Battlefield
Antietam National Battlefield


The mural's perspective faces east toward the Roulette Farm, home of William and Margaret Roulette and their five children. The Roulette Farm suffered extensive damage to property and crops during the daylong battle.

Smoke, noise, and confusion on the field's northern end impelled Union troops to turn south toward an old, dirt farm lane, worn down over time to 4 - 5 feet (1.2 - 1.5 meters) below ground level by rain and wagon traffic and known as Sunken Road to area residents. Rolling, higher terrain, which hindered visibility, served to shelter Confederate troops from view in Sunken Road's natural trench until the two sides were face-to-face. II Corps' advances included 3rd Division, led by Brigadier General William Henry French (January 13, 1815 – May 20, 1881), and 1st Division led by Major General Israel Bush Richardson (December 26, 1815 – November 3, 1862), both depicted on mural's right.

  • After the three-and-one-half hour struggle for control, raging from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Sunken Road became known as Bloody Lane.
  • Major General Richardson, struck by a shell fragment while directing artillery fire, was removed to a field hospital for treatment of the non-life-threatening wound. Nevertheless, he succumbed to infection and pneumonia almost seven weeks later.

Around 2:00 p.m., Union Army General-in-Chief George Brinton McClellan (December 3, 1826 – October 29, 1885), accompanied by staff, made his only visit to the battlefield (depicted center left).

  • Major General William Buel Franklin (February 27, 1823 – March 8, 1903) proposed an on-the-offensive deployment of his VI Corps, which was being held in reserve, to exploit Confederate weaknesses along Bloody Lane.
  • Major General Edwin Vose Sumner (January 30, 1797 – March 21, 1863) proposed defensive deployments.
  • General McClellan's cautious decision in favor of General Sumner's defensive stance constituted a lost opportunity toward a decisive victory.


With their 13 children, Samuel and Elizabeth Mumma exited their farm two days before the battle. They returned on Friday, September 19, to smoking shells for barn, house, and outbuildings (depicted mid-left).

  • In the battle's only instance of deliberate destruction to civilian property, Confederates had set the buildings on fire in order to prevent their use by Union sharpshooters.


A Crucial Delay ~ Early afternoon

Antietam National Battlefield
Antietam National Battlefield


The mural's perspective looks west across Antietam Creek at the three-arch stone bridge known locally as the Lower Bridge or Rohrbach's Bridge, namesake of nearby farmer Henry Rohrbach.

The crucial crossing across the creek was held by the Confederates for three hours.

  • Attacks by XI Corps, under the leadership of Major General Ambrose Everett Burnside (May 23, 1824 – September 13, 1881), repeatedly were foiled by around 500 Georgia sharpshooters defending the bridge's west bluff under the leadership of Confederate Brigadier General Robert Augustus Toombs (July 2, 1810 – December 15, 1885).

By 1:00 in the afternoon, however, the Confederates were low on ammunition and began to retreat.

Although Union troops succeeded in storming the bridge and scaling the bluff, they suffered a crucial delay of two hours from time expended by reinforcements in crossing to resupply the troops for the final advance.

  • Up until 4:00 p.m., the decimated, retreated Confederates seemed to have run out of advantages.
  • But the Union Army's two-hour delay in pounding a pursuit allowed Brigadier General Ambrose Powell Hill, Jr. (November 9, 1825 – April 2, 1865), summoned urgently earlier by Robert Edward Lee (January 19, 1807 – October 12, 1870), Commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, to hasten, with his Light Division infantry unit of six brigades, at lightning speed, covering 17 miles (27.3 kilometers) from Harper's Ferry in northeastern West Virginia to the Potomac River, three miles (4.8 kilometers) from Sharpsburg, in seven hours.
  • With 1.5 hours of Brigadier General Hill's timely arrival, fighting ceased for the day.


After the Battle of Antietam, the bridge which had bottlenecked the day's battle became known as Burnside's Bridge.


Wasted Gallantry ~ Late afternoon

Antietam National Battlefield
Antietam National Battlefield


The mural's perspective looks south toward Sharpsburg.

Around 4:30 p.m., several hours after the cessation of fighting at Bloody Lane, William H. Irwin, Colonel of the Third Brigade in VI Corps' Second Division, ordered Major Thomas Worcester Hyde (16 January 1841 – 14 December 1899) to cross the lane with his regiment, 7th Maine Infantry and, advancing through the cornfield of Henry Piper's farm, dislodge Confederate sharpshooters skirmishing from farm buildings and an orchard.

  • Within less than 30 minutes, the regiment of 15 officers and 166 men, assailed from three directions by Confederate artillery and infantry units, was reduced by 50 percent.
  • In his report five days later, on September 22, 1862, to Charles Mundee, Assistant Adjutant General of Volunteers, repeatedly described Major Hyde and his regiment as "gallant."


The Aftermath at Bloody Lane

Antietam National Battlefield
Antietam National Battlefield


The mural's perspective looks east across Bloody Lane, which epitomizes the Battle of Antietam.

The natural trench, which served as the center of General Lee's defensive line, covered a stretch of 800 yards (731.5 meters).

By shortly after mid-day, Sunken Road had been transformed into Bloody Lane.

With body counts approximating 5,500, Bloody Lane accounted for almost 25 percent of the day's casualty total of around 23,110, apportioned as:

  • Confederate: 10,700;
  • Union: 12,410.


Overview of the Battle of Antietam

Drawn in Adobe Illustrator CS5
Drawn in Adobe Illustrator CS5

Conclusion: Hope's perfect memorials, lost but then found and restored


Antietam Creek flows for 41.7 miles (67.1 kilometers) through south central Pennsylvania and western Maryland as a tributary of the "Nation's River," the storied Potomac River. Antietam is thought to derive from the creek's Algonquin name, which means "swift water."

On Wednesday, September 17, 1862, the creek's pastoral locale near Sharpsburg, a town founded in 1763 by Joseph Chapline (September 5, 1707 - January 8, 1769) in northwestern Maryland, witnessed a maelstrom of death as the bloodiest day of battle in U.S. military history bloodied the earth and reddened the waters.

Carrying memories of the events in which they participated with them for the rest of their lives, veterans of the War Between the States found ways, such as reunions and support of memorials, to honor survivors and fallen comrades.

Civil War veteran James Hope, who had set aside his cherished art career as painter and teacher to enlist, tapped his lifelong artistic passion for valuable contributions as a topographical engineer and military mapmaker. Additionally, personal sketches memorialized Civil War events for future projects in civilian life.

James' Civil War-themed paintings, which he exhibited during the last decades of his life, evoked expressions of spellbound appreciation from veterans. A letter dated Saturday, January 21, 1865, from George B. McClellan (December 3, 1826 – October 29, 1885), Commanding General of the Union Armies (November 1, 1861 - November 5, 1862), typified veterans' awestruck sentiments:


My Dear Captain,

Before leaving the city I must express to you the pleasure experienced by me on beholding your magnificent painting of the Army of the Potomac in camp, at Cumberland Landing, Pamunky River . . . . For a moment upon entering the gallery I was spellbound, and could hardly realize that the place and event was not actually before me . . . . I congratulate you on your success.

Truly your friend,

Geo. B. McClellan


Iconic landscape of Antietam National Battlefield: Burnside's Bridge, a three-arch stone bridge designed by master bridge builder John Weaver and completed in 1836.

Antietam National Battlefield, autumn 2008
Antietam National Battlefield, autumn 2008



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.


Iconic landscape of Antietam National Battlefield: Observation Tower, built primarily of local materials, including native limestone, in 1897 by War Department to provide panoramic view and facilitate study of the battle

War Department was given oversight of Antietam Battlefield Commission in 1890; in 1933 administration of Civil War sites was transferred to the National Park Service.

Sources Consulted


Alexander, Ted. “Antietam On Canvas: The Battle Art of James Hope.” Catoctin History, No. 1 (Fall 2002): 34 – 35.

Alexander, Ted. The Battle of Antietam: The Bloodiest Day. Civil War Sesquicentennial Series. Charleston SC: The History Press, 2011.

antietamguides. “Hope.” Antietam Battlefield Guides. September 19, 2012. Antietam Battlefield Guide Association. Blog. antietamguides.com. Retrieved September 18, 2014.

  • Available at: http://antietamguides.com/2012/09/19/hope/

Bailey, Ronald H. The Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam. Alexandria VA: Time Life Books, 1984.

Flood, Peter. “James Hope.” Vermont in the Civil War > Units > 1st Brigade > Second Vermont Infantry > 2nd Vermont Infantry Biographies / Obituaries. Tom Ledoux & Associates. Web. vermontcivilwar.org. Retrieved September 18, 2014.

  • Available at: http://vermontcivilwar.org/units/2/obits.php?input=3072

Flood, Peter. “Hope, James.” Vermont in the Civil War > Cemetery Database > Virtual Cemetery. Tom Ledoux & Associates. Web. vermontcivilwar.org. Retrieved September 18, 2014.

  • Available at: http://vermontcivilwar.org/get.php?input=3072

Freeman, Larry. The Hope Paintings. Watkins Glen NY: Century House, 1961.

Hecht, William. “The Great Flood of 1935 in Watkins Glen: Images from July 8, 1935 in the Village of Watkins Glen, NY.” FingerLakes1.com Network > Features. FingerLakes1.com, Inc. Web. www.fingerlakes1.com. Retrieved September 18, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.fingerlakes1.com/features/history-watkins-glen-1935-flood.php

Hays, Helen Ashe. The Antietam and Its Bridges: The Annals of an Historic Stream. With 17 photogravures from photographs by John C. Artz. New York and London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons / The Knickerbocker Press, 1910.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/antietamitsbridg00haysuoft

Henderson, John J., and Roger E. Belson. “James Hope (1818 – 1892).” White Mountain Art & Artists. Revised 2014-09-07. John J. Henderson. Web. www.whitemountainart.com. Retrieved September 18, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.whitemountainart.com/Biographies/bio_jh.htm

Hennessy, John J. “An Artilleryman At Antietam.” HistoryNet > Civil War Times Magazine. December 14, 2012. Weider History Group. Web. www.historynet.com. Retrieved September 18, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.historynet.com/an-artilleryman-at-antietam.htm

“Hope Paintings.” National Park Service > Antietam National Battlefield Maryland > Photos & Multimedia. National Park Service. Web. www.nps.gov. Retrieved September 18, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.nps.gov/anti/photosmultimedia/hopepaintings.htm?eid=101853&root_aId=30

Irwin, Col. William H. "Report of Col. William H. Irwin, Forty-ninth Pennsylvania Infantry, commanding Third Brigade, of the battles of Crampton's Pass and Antietam." Shotgun's Home of the American Civil War > Civil War Battles > Antietam (Sharpsburg). September 22, 1862. CivilWarHome.com. Web. www.civilwarhome.com. Retrieved September 18, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.civilwarhome.com/irwinantietamor.html

“James Hope.” Freedom and Unity > War and Industry 1860 – 1910 > Soldiers. Vermont Historical Society. Web. freedomandunity.org. Retrieved September 18, 2014.

  • Available at: http://freedomandunity.org/1800s/hope.html

Lewis, Ralph H. Museum Curatorship in the National Park Service 1904 – 1982. Washington DC: Department of the Interior, 1993.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/musuemcuratorshi00lewi

manwaringb. “Frowning Cliff, Watkins Glen, New York.” The Rockwell Insider. February 13, 2014. Beth Manwaring. Blog. rockwellmuseum.wordpress.com. Retrieved September 18, 2014.

  • Available at: http://rockwellmuseum.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/frowning-cliff-watkins-glen-new-york/

“McClellan on the field at Antietam.” Antietam on the Web. February 2, 2007. Brian Downey. Blog. behind.aotw.org. Retrieved September 18, 2014.

  • Available at: http://behind.aotw.org/2007/02/02/mcclellan-on-the-field-at-antietam/

Munsing, Stefan P. An Exhibit of American Painting, 1815 – 1865 from the M. and M. Karolik Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. London: Trustees of Holburne of Menstrie Museum of Art and Bath Festival in co-operation with USIS American Embassy, 1900.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/exhibitofamerica00muns

Page, Priscilla. James Hope (1819 – 1892) Letters, 1853 – 1954. October 2000. Vermont Historical Society. Web. vermonthistory.org. Retrieved September 18, 2014.

  • Available at: https://vermonthistory.org/documents/findaid/hope.pdf.

Page, Priscilla. James Hope (1818/19 – 1892) Papers, 1854 – 1983 (bulk: 1856 – 1872). Vermont Historical society. Web. vermonthistory.org. Retrieved September 18, 2014.

  • Available at: https://vermonthistory.org/documents/findaid/hopePapers.pdf.

Priest, John Michael. Antietam: The Soldiers Battle. Shippensburg PA: White Mane Publishing Company, Inc., 1989.

Ross, Peter. The Scot in America. New York: The Raeburn Book Company, 1896.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/scotinameric00ross

Stevens, George T. Three Years in the Sixth Corps. A Concise Narrative of Events in the Army of the Potomac from 1861 to the Close of the Rebellion, April, 1865. Second Edition: Revised and corrected, with seven steel portraits and numerous word engravings. New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1870.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/threeyearsinsixt00stevuoft

Tilberg, Frederick. Antietam National Battlefield Site Maryland. Historical Handbook Series No. 31. Revised edition. Washington DC: National Park Service, 1961.

  • Available via National Park Service at: http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/hh/31/hh31toc.htm

Victorian-Yankee. “Capt James Hope.” Find A Grave > Find A Grave Memorial# 20606375. July 24, 2007. Jim Tipton. Web. www.findagrave.com. Retrieved September 18, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=20606375


View from Observation Tower: Visitors note the contrast between the still beauty of Civil War landscapes and the bloody events which took place there:

Something indefinable seems to hover in the air above these hallowed grounds, where hauntings aplenty long have been experienced.
Antietam National Battlefield, 1980s - 1990s
Antietam National Battlefield, 1980s - 1990s
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Antietam: The Soldiers' Battle by John Michael Priest ~

About the human dimension in battle, such as the Confederate surgeon who had seen so much death and suffering that his "head had whitened and my very soul turned to stone."
Antietam-themed books

Confederate Flag Distressed: black t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

Confederate Flag Distressed
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Stars & Stripes: tye dye t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

Stars & Stripes
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Battle of Antietam: The Bloodiest Day (MD) (Civil War Sesquicentennial Series) by Ted Alexander

Chief historian of the Antietam National Battlefield Ted Alexander renders a fresh and gripping portrayal of the battle, its aftermath, the effect on the civilians of Sharpsburg and the efforts to preserve the hallowed spot.
Antietam-themed books

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 09/19/2014, DerdriuMarriner
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